This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, May 7, 2014:
On Thursday, May 1, an associate chemistry professor sent out his guidelines to his chemistry majors to use during their speeches upon graduation: 35 words max, and no mention of God. Here’s this from his email sent to his students at East Carolina University:
Hi everyone: Just a reminder to everyone (undergraduate majors) that if you are planning on being at the graduation ceremony, you can provide me with a personal statement that thanks someone or tells us your future plans. I’ve had some submissions [in the past] that needed to be edited, so here are some guidelines:
- You can’t thank God. I’m sorry about this – and I don’t want to outline the reasons why….
On Monday, May 5, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision banning public prayers before starting legislative board meetings. In Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, et al, the Court, in the 5-4 majority’s opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that “legislative prayer … has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment]” and that “history supported the [Court’s] conclusion that the specific practice was permitted.” In addition, “there is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well.”
That same day the provost of East Carolina University Marilyn Sheerer sent an email advising the students to disregard the professor’s “guidelines” saying instead that “religious references of any type will not be restricted … as permitted by applicable First Amendment law.”
So the impact of Monday’s decision is already being felt.
The prayers that invoked the ire of two regular attendees at the monthly town meetings in Greece, New York, were much longer than 35 words and were very explicit about giving glory to Jesus Christ. Here is one of them:
Lord, we ask you to send your spirit of servanthood upon all of us gathered here this evening to do your work for the benefit of all in our community. We ask you to bless our elected and appointed officials so they may deliberate with wisdom and act with courage. Bless the members of our community who come here to speak before the board so they may state their cause with honesty and humility….
Lord, we ask you to bless us all, that everything we do here tonight will move you to welcome us one day into your kingdom as good and faithful servants. We ask this in the name of our brother Jesus. Amen.
Lord, God of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your presence and action in the world. We look with anticipation to the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. It is in the solemn events of next week that we find the very heart and center of our Christian faith.
We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength, vitality, and confidence from his resurrection at Easter….
We pray for peace in the world, an end to terrorism, violence, conflict, and war. We pray for stability, democracy, and good government in those countries in which our armed forces are now serving, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan….
Praise and glory be yours, O Lord, now and forever more. Amen.
This was just too much for Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, who is an atheist, and so they – with the assistance of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) – filed suit claiming all manner of discrimination and bad vibes. Specifically, they found such prayers to be “offensive,” “intolerable,” and an affront to the town’s “diverse community.” They told Pew Research that they felt “coerced to participate and isolated during the ceremonies.” In their complaint, they held that
Only nonsectarian, broadly inclusive legislative prayers are constitutional. Those that use the terminology of, or are otherwise associated with, any particular faith or denomination [read: Christianity], are not.
Greece, New York, is certainly a strange place for two disaffected complainers to bring suit. It is a small township of just 94,000, most of whom are Christians. In fact, the church directory lists nothing but Christian churches – no Buddhist temples, no Jewish synagogues, no local Bahá’í centers – and when the board meets they ask preachers from local churches to open the meetings with prayer. Predictably, the name of Jesus is included consistently, along with a roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Justice Kennedy stayed far away from those declarations of faith in and dependence upon the Maker of the universe. Instead, this diffident and timorous justice explained why the court decided as it did:
The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent….
This is complete and utter balderdash. Those prayers were deliberately designed to give formal public recognition to the maker of the universe, Jesus Christ, and His intimate continuing work in the lives of believers as they seek His will through the local board.
For Kennedy to walk away from that simple declaration and claim instead that the prayers were to “acknowledge religious leaders” and their “institutions” misses the point entirely.
The point is that there is a war against God and His son Jesus Christ that has been going on since that confrontation with the serpent in the garden of Eden. The present case is just a minor skirmish in that long war.
When the lawsuit was first presented, the local court threw it out with reasoning that Kennedy seemed to have missed altogether. That court found:
no impermissible preference for Christianity, concluding that the Christian identity of most of the prayer givers reflected the predominately Christian character of the town’s congregations … [that giving such prayers were] not an official policy or practice of discriminating against minority faiths….
Further, that court found:
That the First Amendment did not require Greece to invite clergy from congregations beyond its borders to achieve religious diversity … rejecting the theory that legislative prayer must be nonsectarian.
Kennedy also missed another important point: the First Amendment stated plainly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Congress shall make no law! This was put in place by the states to keep Congress from overreaching into areas where it had no business or power to be. It was only after the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 that the taffy-pull began, stretching the original meaning so that it would require the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, to be applied equally to the states.
Having ignored that, Kennedy moved on, holding that the Court’s 1983 decision in Marsh v. Chambers was correct: the state of Nebraska was not in violation of the Constitution when it hired chaplains to give invocations at the start of legislative sessions.
Besides, wrote Kennedy:
The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.
He also took the opportunity to address the petitioner/complainers:
The Congress that drafted the First Amendment would have been accustomed to invocations containing explicitly religious [i.e., Christian] themes of the sort respondents find objectionable.
Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable.
In other words, Susan and Linda, get over it!
It took Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurrence, to note the illegal use of the Fourteenth Amendment while still coming to the correct conclusion:
The town’s prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause … even if the Establishment Clause was properly incorporated against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Clause is not violated by the kind of subtle pressure respondents allegedly suffered….
The Court’s four liberals faulted the decision, claiming betrayal and discrimination. Wrote Justice Elena Kagan, who is Jewish:
No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.
The Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United claimed discrimination in the court’s ruling:
The Supreme Court just relegated millions of Americans – both believers and nonbelievers – to second-class citizenship.
Government should not be in the business of forcing faith on anyone, and now all who attend meetings of their local boards could be subjected to the religion of the majority.
The impact of the Court’s decision is already being felt, from the campus of East Carolina University to town boards in Maryland. Whether it will extend to school board meetings remains to be seen, as well as to sporting events. The one thing that is clear from this decision is that the attack isn’t on religious freedom. After all the complainants don’t mind secular prayer, just prayer that mentions the name of the maker of the universe, Jesus Christ. He remains the burr under their saddle.
The present favorable ruling scarcely ends the matter. It is, instead, just one small skirmish in the long war against God.
The Supreme Court: Syllabus of Town of Greece ruling
The Washington Times: Divided court OKs prayer before public meetings
The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court upholds Christian prayers at city council meetings
The New American: Supreme Court’s Docket Full of Potential Mischief
The New American: High Court Takes up Challenge to Prayer at Government Meetings